NSF: What it is and Why it Matters
By Lee Davis
If you regularly buy or sell commercial foodservice equipment and supplies, then you’re probably familiar with the NSF certification stamp that appears on any number of products from ladles to refrigerators. You may even know that NSF International (formerly the National Sanitation Foundation) is an independent, not-for-profit, third party that, among other things, tests and certifies foodservice equipment and supplies to verify that they meet or exceed NSF’s standards for cleanability, sanitation, and food protection. Items that pass the tests for materials, design, construction, and performance, get the NSF stamp.
I was recently asked, “so what does that mean? Am I required to buy NSF products for my commercial kitchen or not?”
The short answer is “it’s a really, really good idea.”
Health Code Compliance
Not all health departments require everything in your kitchen to be NSF Certified, but everything in your kitchen that is NSF Certified, will meet any health department requirements. NSF International closely monitors all jurisdictions to make sure that NSF standards meet or exceed federal, state, and local health codes. In the U.S. local health departments perform inspections to verify compliance. When reviewing an operation, inspectors can quickly and easily verify equipment compliance if they see an NSF certification mark. Not having certified equipment can often raise compliance issues and even put a new restaurant's opening on hold.
Protect Your Customers and Your Operation
Your customers expect and deserve safe food. The CDC estimates that each year roughly 48 million people get sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of foodborne diseases. Easily cleanable, properly functioning food equipment is critical for any restaurant or commercial food service operation. Poorly designed or malfunctioning equipment can lead to cross-contamination and even a foodborne illnesses outbreak. According to the National Restaurant Association, even a single foodborne illness outbreak can cost an operation thousands of dollars. The costs come from loss of sales, negative media exposure, lawsuits, loss of reputation, and increased insurance premiums.
Satisfy Chain and Franchise Requirements
Often times, chains and franchises will require that equipment in their local operations be NSF Certified. In addition to the reasons above, this helps promote a culture of food safety within their organization. This can encourage additional safety measures, and improve employee morale and job satisfaction.
In general, before making any major equipment investment, it’s wise to ask your supplier to verify the item is NSF Certified. NSF International lists 22 food equipment standards that address the variety of products within a commercial kitchen including, but not limited to, ice machines, water heaters, food cooking and prep equipment, food carts, refrigerators, warewashing machines, thermometers, food storage containers, dinnerware, disposable gloves, oven mitts, and more. To see a complete list of standards, or to conduct a search by item or manufacturer, click here.